Beyond the Layers - Athlete Jim Hole Jr.
The following orininally appeared in the Fall edition of SITKA INSIGHT Magazine 003. For more information about Sitka Insight, subscribe now.
In the deep freeze of winter in the Alberta Bowzone, where late November temperatures can reach forty below, there’s one consideration that legendary whitetail outfitter and SITKA athlete Jim Hole, Jr., prioritizes above all others when he’s selecting and rigging his gear: silence. And we’re not just talking about stealth on the way to the stand — that’s important, too — we’re talking about the silence of an owl perched in a tree.
“You can easily hear a car on a gravel road five miles away, and that’s nothing compared to what the deer hear. It’s similar to being in an empty concrete warehouse with nothing to absorb sound,” he explains. In the coldest temperatures, the sound of a zipper or a bow clinking against a treestand can spook far-away deer before they even make their presence known. “It’s a very unforgiving place to hunt, and a lot of that is the nature of what you’re hunting, which is mature animals.”
The Alberta Bowzone, an archery-only trophy whitetail region, surrounds Edmonton, a city of about a million residents. In keeping with Bergmann’s rule — which states that the colder the climate, and the higher one gets in terms of latitude, the bigger the animals get —the whitetails in the Bowzone are monsters, and they don’t hang around long enough to make it into the 150-inch range by being dumb. To keep himself as quiet as possible, Hole soundproofs his gear with hockey tape, usually printed with the Canadian flag. His water bottle, every part of his tree stand, his release, the bases of the mid-size antlers he carries for rattling—everything gets a layer of hockey tape. Anything likely to freeze to the point of feeling like dry ice, like the grip of his bow, also gets a layer of tape to protect his hands.
Hole, 53, has been outfitting for thirty-three years, and he’s credited with pioneering the most effective tactics for taking trophy whitetails in the Bowzone. In November 1999, Hole’s mastery resulted in a 192-inch buck that ranked fourth in the world at the time for North American whitetails. Clients come from all over the United States and Canada for a shot at a trophy Bowzone buck, and Hole expects them to hold themselves to his standards of discipline. He compares hunting the Bowzone to being in Stanley Cup playoffs: “You can’t be up here without your A-game. You don’t have a warm-up time. You’re in the third round, and it’s expected you’re hunting at a certain level, and if you’re not at that level, you’re just on a cold-weather vacation.”
A normal day during the November rut involves hunting a morning stand and an evening stand, though depending on the moon phase, which influences peak animal movement, Hole may set up a client in a single stand in the middle of the day. Scent is crucial, which means Hole’s hunters aren’t allowed to bring food or coffee to keep them company in the stand. “Does a football player have a hamburger at halftime? No. If you can’t eat or drink enough in camp so you can do your hunt, you’re doing something wrong.”
Hole is the first to admit that hunting the Bowzone is a labor of love. “Actually it isn’t fun — it’s awesome, but it’s really tough, and it’ll show you who’s who. I don’t care where you come from or what you’ve got, because when the game starts, it’s very clear who’s got it and who doesn’t".